Burlington considers joining Montpelier in creating responsible contractor ordinance

Local News

Burlington is considering enacting a responsible contractor ordinance. It would help make the Queen City easier to live in for the people who build it, and Montpelier passed a similar measure a little more than a year ago.

A union carpenter told the Burlington City Council Ordinance Committee Thursday night that some of the building contractors currently operating in the city have a history of unscrupulous business practices. Those practices include wrongly classifying employees as independent contractors in order to avoid paying benefits and overtime.

“These cheating contractors save up to about 30% on their labor costs by paying their employees in cash, thereby avoiding all the federal and state medicare taxes, as well as unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation on behalf of those employees,” Kim Hokanson of the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters said.

Montpelier’s 2019 responsible contractor ordinance requires contractors working on city projects to avoid those practices. Because COVID-19 has slowed down construction, Montpelier City Councilor Conor Casey said his city’s ordinance actually hasn’t come into play on any projects yet.

“But down the pipeline, we have a wastewater treatment plant that needs to be renovated, potentially a parking garage, and a rec center, so we’re very excited that the ordinance will apply to those projects coming up,” he said.

The enforcement mechanism for Burlington still needs to be worked out. “I feel good about trusting city staff to decide when it’s a mistake — which is a civil fine or a civil penalty — versus when it’s intentional mis-classification and misinformation,” Burlington City Councilor Zoraya Hightower said.

According to the Burlington ordinance’s draft language, a general contractor would be just as liable for the actions of a subcontractor that it hires as the subcontractor itself. One member of the Ordinance Committee found this clause worrisome.

“I have a little bit of concern with the contractor/subcontractor piece about the rather punitive nature — you’re kicked off the contract for your first offense,” Burlington City Councilor Chip Mason said.

The committee will revisit the responsible contractor ordinance in the near future. However, it’s not clear if the group will do so at its next meeting, which is next Thursday, February 4.

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